In the programme notes for Triptych, Opera Erratica’s director Patrick Eakin Young writes of a reverse engineering creative process, in this case using Puccini's Il trittico, deconstructing it and putting it back together again in a new way. The connection to the source material was tenuous at best; in the space of just over an hour we had “a tragedy, a comedy and a piece about nuns” but that was as close as we got to Puccini. This was not necessarily a bad thing, although the resulting pieces had varied success.

Triptych © Richard Hubert Smith
© Richard Hubert Smith

A Party, the middle work and comedy, had both the best concept and realisation. In it, a young woman learns English from a language LP. Taking a party scene as the jump-off, she creates a scene laced with class and sexual undertones that eventually erupts into an orgy. Composer Thomas Smetryns doesn’t just use and manipulate the record (including slowing down, speeding up, rewinding and repeating elements), but also has the other four members of the company speaking along with the record. It was wonderfully realised by all, dripping with hostility, anxiety and sexual tension, until bursting into song at the literally climactic moment. Extremely funny and finely balanced, it will perhaps have a future link to Puccini in being the most performed of the trio, like its comic counterpart Gianni Schicchi.

The first of the trio, Reunion, was the most clearly related to its original subject matter, but was also the least successful. The premise was interesting, combining the investiture of a young nun with a woman - perhaps the same young nun in the future - whose first and only boyfriend has reconnected with her for the purpose of interviewing her about giving herself up to God. It played on the tensions between sex and religion, and attempted to blur the lines between them. Musically it had the most to offer the performers and was finely woven by Christian Mason, however the direction felt “try-hard”; designed to shock, but failing, and with live camera work that was just too fussy. I don’t object to nudity, but there wasn’t any need for Callie Swarbrick to be stripped naked; it added nothing to the scene, nor did the faux-lesbian hinting between Lucy Goddard and Catherine Carter’s nuns. Carter’s onstage costume change between this and A Party also felt gratingly unnecessary, even more so in comparison with the comparatively clothed orgy.

The use of disrobed clothing was much more moving in the final piece, The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered. It tells the story of the disappearance of Richard Nickel, a photographer and cultural conservationist who tried to save the buildings of architect Louis Sullivan from being demolished in the ‘60s and ‘70s. This is juxtapositioned with thoughts on Edward Hopper’s painting Hotel Room. Nickel’s story is intoned, being neatly passed around the company over an electronic track that eventually refines to emerge as the voice of Nickel’s friend John Vinci. The Hopper aspects are more melodic, but felt like an unnecessary addition by Christopher Mayo. As the piece progresses, each member of the company picks up a piece of clothing to create an entire outfit, representing Nickel the scavenger, saving pieces from soon to be demolished buildings for posterity. It was moving, but overcomplicated by the Hopper references.

That the most successful piece had the least singing is a matter of correlation rather than causation. The Opera Erratica company clearly has significant vocal talent; Kate Symonds-Joy and Lucy Goddard in particular stood out on that front. Perhaps the only complaint is that Oskar McCarthy did not have enough to do, often rooting the music harmonically than having any real chance to shine. Their complete technical and vocal mastery was matched by their acting skills, but less so by the direction. Also, Gavin Turk’s set didn’t feel completely integral to the work; I can easily imagine all three scenes being played out on more conventional stages. Although uneven, Triptych deserves to be seen on the strength of A Party alone; it’ll be the funniest thing you see all year. If Opera Erratica can become more consistently create works of that calibre, it’ll have a bright future ahead of it.